I Brought the Chips: The Surrender of a Back-to-Work Mom

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I’m not going to lie, l spent years unfairly judging mothers who filled their grocery carts with store-made cupcakes and cookies. What slackers! After all, I, the far superior mother, crafted my children’s homemade snacks into three-dimensional race cars made out of Twinkies (complete with pretzel stick axels and sugar wafer wheels).

I was up before dawn every day, and I handled both a busy family and a full-time teaching position with relative ease. But after 15 years, I left the workforce for the birth of our sixth child, and I didn’t go back… until now. Two more children and eight years later, here I am, back in the fray. Working outside the home for the first time in nearly a decade, I find myself the captain of a sinking ship.

Every “perfect mother” standard I vainly upheld has slowly fallen victim to sleep depravity, time constraints, and failing willpower. And today, well, I officially waved the white flag of surrender. It started with a text from my husband who was inquiring what we should bring to his company carry-in luncheon. My brain scrambled for an answer as I shoveled half a yogurt in my face on a fly-by lunch break. Homemade carrot cake? Key lime pie? A brownie mocha truffle? Deflated, defeated, and stripped of my pride, I yielded a one-word capitulation in response: “chips.”

Karma’s a beast, and her name is Frito Lay. Devastated by my under-performance, I slunk to the store after work and hit the junk food aisle, for once grateful to be hiding behind a mask. In an effort to regain at least a little dignity, I chose a variety of spicy, baked, and hearty original flavors in cute single-serve bags. With a ray of hope and redemption, I envisioned arranging them neatly in a galvanized tub tied with a gingham bow. I took a deep breath, and I summoned my inner Joanna Gaines … until I got home and shoved them, still in the box, straight into my husband’s trunk.

Damn. What happened to me? I can’t decide what is worse: the humiliating admission that “I brought the chips,” or the disheartening realization that I honestly didn’t have the strength to care.

But what if this feeling isn’t despondence or even indifference? What if this resignation is not a failure, but a growth? Let’s flip the script; instead of internal tongue-lashing or self-loathing, I’m choosing to see this as an evolution into a new season of life. In this season, I give however I can. I embrace the struggle, and I buy the chips.

Somewhere, there’s a freshly manicured mama who has far more strength and culinary fortitude than I. It’s her turn to shine, and I’m okay with relinquishing the spotlight.

Working and tired mothers, I see you. I feel you. Raising children, managing a household, navigating a pandemic, and faithfully attending to the needs of your outside-of-the-home work is tough stuff, especially during an emotionally and politically charged time. It is enough to subdue even an eternal optimist, like me.

Something has to give. Hear my war cry, and join me! I may be surrendering a faux facade of perfection, but I haven’t lost the battle; I just quit fighting. I don’t need to combat the expectations of the younger me, because this seasoned warrior has learned to hit the chips aisle and spend the time saved savoring some peace. Put down your sword and pick up a congratulatory glass of wine… Now, who’s bringing the dip?

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